'Doubling Down on Failure': Freedom Caucus Criticizes Inslee’s $4B Request for Homelessness


Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced a budget putting $4 billion toward increasing the stock of housing in Washington, a move that will need to be approved by the Legislature and voters before being implemented.

Over the following decade, the expenditure would add tens of thousands of housing units in the rapidly-growing state to help end a crisis he referred to as “squalor,” a “scourge” and a “blight” in a Thursday morning pre-session press briefing. 

The governor argued the spending would bring housing relief efforts up “to scale” with the expanding population of Washingtonians, homeless or otherwise.

But the “freedom caucus,” a self-described “group of four Republican senators outspoken on issues,” has already criticized the proposal, which in a news release Monday claimed the problem with homelessness services in Washington is that money has been spent incorrectly, not too sparingly. 

They did express thanks that the governor had recognized the issue and his statement that encampments were unacceptable. The group also agreed more housing was needed, but argued the state needed to take steps on policy for drugs at the same time.

Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, who represents the 19th district, which covers most of West Lewis County, said in the release Washingtonians are “demanding action about the homeless camps in their communities — the petty thievery, rampant drug abuse, trash and litter, human waste in the streets, and the climate of fear that has made people reluctant to work and shop in our downtown districts.”

The statement declares that without amendment to drug possession laws that were retroactively changes after the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision, Inslee is “doubling down on failure.” The decision dropped felony charges in simple possession cases, and the statement calls drug enalities an “essential tool,” for law enforcement to get “drug-addicted homeless the treatment they need.” It further calls the population of people in homeless encampments “fueled by drug addiction, alcoholism and mental illness.”

In response, freedom caucus member Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, proposes Senate Bill 5016. Language in the bill states it addresses homelessness by “providing emergency shelter, incentivizing employment of workers experiencing homelessness, and building homes for a better future.”

The bill would mandate cities and counties with populations over 50,000 to build shelters that prohibit alcohol and drug use, compels the Department of Commerce to create a workgroup, incentivizes the hiring of unemployed people by offering employers tax credits and more.

Another member of the group, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he was glad the governor is “finally realizing” the severity of Washington’s homelessness problem. Padden expressed hope the Legislature would take “effective” bipartisan action this session, which began Monday.